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Alabama Spots

Date Published: August 3, 2000

Alabama Spots

J. Chris Greene
District I Fisheries Biologist
Decatur, Alabama

Thousands of Alabama anglers seek the ever-popular largemouth bass as their primary target on weekend outings, although many affirm that catching a spotted bass is second to none. Both species coexist in many Alabama lakes and reservoirs, explaining why some anglers catch the occasional "spot" while fishing for largemouth bass. Spotted bass are well known for their aggressiveness once hooked, however many other distinct differences exist between these two black bass species.

Spotted bass prefer cooler water, thus making them unfit for life in farm ponds where midsummer surface water temperatures can reach the 90-degree mark. They also favor areas low in turbidity, which excludes sites that receive excessive runoff from tilled agricultural regions. In impoundments where these two species coexist, spotted bass tend to inhabit areas with rocky substrates and avoid those with mud bottoms and dense emergent vegetation. Two Alabama reservoirs that have excellent populations of spotted bass include Lewis Smith and Martin Lakes, both of which are deep, clear water systems with abundant steep rock ledges.

Spotted bass reach sexual maturity when they are one to two years of age, with relatively all fish being mature by the time they reach 10 inches in total length. The normal spawning period in Alabama reservoirs occurs from mid-April to late May, depending on geographical location. Spawning is initiated first in systems located in the southwestern portion of the state and later in the northeastern region. Increasing water temperature seems to be the most popular explanation as to when reproductive behavior begins, however spawning has been documented over a wide range of water temperature from 55 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. This indicates that other factors such as amount of daylight, water level stabilization, and long-term climatic conditions may be equally important. The spotted bass spawning period typically lasts around 30-45 days. This is much shorter than the duration of the largemouth bass spawn, which has been documented to last over 65 days in certain Alabama reservoirs. Spotted bass generally spawn deeper than largemouth bass and nest sites have been recorded at depths from 3 to 21 feet in reservoirs. Average nest depth is around 8 to 12 feet (depending on bottom contour), although nest sites in streams have been viewed as shallow as 10 inches along gravel bars.

In specific nutrient-poor Alabama reservoirs, a competitive edge is seen for spotted bass over largemouth bass. Adult spotted bass tend to spawn earlier in these systems and therefore young-of-year survival is increased due to a size advantage. This advantage allows young spots to out-compete largemouths, since they can effectively forage on a wider distribution of prey sizes. This could indicate why spotted bass are more common than other black bass species in many Alabama streams, although a habitat preference typically exists also.

The diet of adult spotted bass consists primarily of crayfish, fish and insects. Past studies done on Alabama reservoirs indicated that 85-95 percent of the diet of adult spotted bass included fish, however in stream habitats, a stronger preference to crayfish was documented. In one study, stomach analysis revealed that crayfish made up 73 percent of the total diet of spotted bass in specific stream environments. Streams typically contain higher densities of crayfish than reservoirs, which could indicate that spotted bass select crayfish above all other available prey items.

Two subspecies of the spotted bass occur in Alabama. The Kentucky bass occurs in the Tennessee River drainage in North Alabama, while the Alabama spotted bass is restricted to the upper Mobile Basin. Studies have shown a definite growth advantage for the "Alabama" subspecies, compared to their more northerly located relatives. The current Alabama record for spotted bass is 8 pounds 15 ounces and was caught from Lewis Smith Reservoir in the late 1970s. This fish once held the rod and reel world record and still remains one of the largest spots ever caught. Spotted bass do not achieve weights as heavy as the largemouth bass, however, pound for pound, many anglers feel the spotted bass is second to none.

For characteristics that distinguish largemouth bass, spotted bass and smallmouth bass, see the Outdoor Alabama magazine article Chris wrote.

Alabama Age and Growth of Spotted Bass and Largemouth Bass

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